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Chickens by Emanuela Colombo, The Fence

7 years ago

This blog is part of a series of exclusive interviews with the winners of The Fence 2016. The Fence is an large-scale outdoor photography installation exhibited in multiple major cities across the USA. Each year, photographers of all levels are invited to submit work that fits under one or more thematic categories. The Fence was conceived by United Photo Industries and Photo District News in 2011.


Since turning to photography, Emanuela Colombo has worked with several NGO’s to produce reports and stories about their activities in Italy and abroad. Her work has been published in both Italian and National magazines. Emanuela now has her own studio where she shoots portraits of both animals and people.


Hi Emanuela. Tell us about the experience of working with live chickens. Did it make the photographic process slower than you would have liked?

Me and my neighbour went all around Italy to visit the best Italian chicken breeders and take portraits of their animals using flashes and a white backdrop. It was a good period, funny and full of satisfactions. The breeders loved us and they are so good in relating with their animals that it was not so difficult make the portraits, sometimes we just needed a little bit of patience.



Where did the concept for this project come from?

After working for years over social issues traveling a lot, after my son’s birth (he is 6 now), I started working in a studio producing mainly pets’ portraits. One day I found out that a neighbor of mine worked as a judge in chickens beauty contests. I asked him to bring me to those competitions and I realised that those animals are really beautiful and belong to races totally different one from the other, just like dogs. On the contrary I had always believed that a chicken was a chicken, all similar one to the other. I also found that many races I saw there had risked extinction as modern poultry breeding methods only involve the use of two chicken breeds, hybrid and totally created by man through genetic modifications: the breed broiler (meat) and the laying hen (for eggs).

The focus on profit has led poultry farmers to ignore the history and territorial origins of the species, to promote a standardised production that has no other aim than the greatest profit. A real cultural and biological pollution, which has almost determined the extinction of hundreds of genetic types and a very high damage to the species biodiversity. Fortunately some nostalgic fans have started researching the last vestiges of the original breeds of chickens and have taken to breed, reviving poultry breeds almost disappeared. If it was not for them many of these chickens would definitely be extinct and their genes lost. The breeders of these ancient breeds compete in those beauty competitions, where each animal is evaluated for posture, size, shape, design and color of the plumage. In the end they are like models and I tried to photograph them like this.

Do you prefer working with animals to humans, and why?

I love working with both, humans and animals. However you have to think that all animals I put in front of my flashes have a human behind.


What do you think makes a good portrait, be that animal or human?

When I make a portrait I try to understand my model and to bring out his personality.

Do you have a photographic philosophy?

I love photography! I think photography should help people to understand the world where they live. But I also think that is not always necessary to use dramatic or really sad images to do that. I think that a little bit of irony and nice images can help people to remember your issue a little bit more.


Where in the world are you and what’s next for you?

I live in the north of Italy, not far from Milan but in the countryside. I’m working on another issue with animals and some others with humans. We will see….